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South Korea, the fourth largest economy in Asia, is heavily dependent on nuclear power, yet in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and a more recent domestic nuclear safety scandal, the country’s nuclear sector has been struggling. Approval on Wednesday to build two new nuclear power plants in a $7 billion project, will hopefully provide a boost.
A number of nuclear reactors around the country have been shutdown since late 2012, after it was discovered that some parts used to build and operate the reactors had been supplied using falsified safety certificates. This left the country prone to blackouts, not a great situation for an economy that is reliant on energy intensive industries such as car manufacturing, steel production, and electronic goods.
South Korea is the fifth largest producer of nuclear power in the world, and controls the majority of the industry, in terms of construction and operation of the reactors, via the state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO).
Seoul faced huge public pressure to reduce the country’s use of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster and the safety certificate scandal, and has had to introduce a lower target for nuclear power, down from generating 41% of all power by 2030, to 29% by 2035. However this still allows for plans to double its nuclear capacity within the next two decades helped by plans to build at least 16 new reactors.
South Korea currently has 23 nuclear reactors, generating roughly a third of all electricity (they will be able to double this capacity and still only provide 29% of all energy due to the large growth expected in the country’s energy demand by 2035). Attempting to use other forms of energy generation would require billions of investment and increasing fossil fuel imports.
Reuters reports that the two new power plants are to be built on top of five other nuclear power plants currently under construction, and another four in the planning phase. Each will have a generation capacity of 1,400 Megawatts and be completed by the end of 2020.
The anti-nuclear power group, Energy Justice Action, have complained that these plans to build two new power plants prove that the government is ignoring the public’s concerns over safety. “In this sense, it shows the government is ignoring concerns triggered by the Fukushima case and from civic groups urging them not to use nuclear power,” said Lee Heon-seok.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com